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Potatoes Stem Bleeding

A powder made from the vegetable works best at clotting blood during operations

TUESDAY, Oct. 15 (HealthDayNews)-- The humble spud may stand poised for a major medical breakthrough.

A patented starchy powder made from potatoes appears to clot blood instantly. That could come in handy during surgeries and emergency procedures and also reduce the number of blood transfusions, say Mayo Clinic researchers who presented their findings today at the American Society of Anesthesiologists' annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.

"It works like a sponge for water molecules in the blood, allowing the platelets to clot almost immediately," says lead researcher Dr. Mark H. Ereth, an associate professor of anesthesiology at the Mayo Clinic.

The powder, approved for most surgical uses in the United States, Canada and Europe, sidesteps problems associated with other clotting agents. It is cheaper and cleaner than clotting agents made from human and cow plasma, and it avoids the risks of disease and allergic reaction, Ereth says.

"The stuff that's out there doesn't work well enough, which is why we're looking for something better," adds Dr. Gregory Nuttall, a secondary author of the paper.

In their study, the researchers made two tiny incisions in the arms of 30 people. One incision was treated with the potato powder; the other was left to clot on its own. The untreated cut took almost six minutes to reach hemostasis -- which is when blood clots -- while 77 percent of the cuts treated with the powder stopped bleeding immediately.

"In the other 23 percent of cases, the clotting was rapid, but there was a little bit of oozing afterward," Ereth says.

Dr. Linda Stehling, who chairs the American Society of Anesthesiologists' transfusion committee, says, "I'm impressed by the numbers. This could take care of real and theoretical concerns about using human and bovine plasma."

Stehling says she's waiting to see how the agent holds up under more complex trials and how applicable it becomes in general practice.

The study was funded by Medafor Inc., of Minneapolis, which manufactures the porous starch and holds the patent on the process to make it. The Mayo Clinic has tested the agent for about two years, with prior trials on animals, Ereth says.

The powder, which is made of purified potato starch processed to produce tiny, absorbent particles, can help surgeons avoid blood transfusions by preventing excessive bleeding. It's particularly useful for paramedics or combat doctors who must stabilize massive wounds before the onset of trauma from loss of blood, Ereth says.

In routine surgical operations, avoiding transfusions saves money and prevents possible disease transmission and serious allergic reactions. The starch also breaks down quickly in the body, unlike other clotting agents, Ereth says.

All of that from a potato.

"I think a lot of times we go looking for very complex solutions. But sometimes elegance is in simplicity," Ereth says.

What To Do

To learn more about blood, visit the American Association of Blood Banks or the National Library of Medicine.

SOURCES: Mark Ereth, M.D., associate professor, anesthesiology, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.; Gregory Nuttall, M.D., anesthesiologist, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.; Linda Stehling, M.D., chairwoman, transfusion committee, American Society of Anesthesiologists; Oct. 15, 2002, presentation, American Society of Anesthesiologists, annual meeting, Orlando, Fla.
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